The Flat Earth Experience

In his The Time Machine Weena tries to throw herself in the fire because she has never seen flames before. 00000She doesn’t know that it will burn her and that she should exercise care. She is a figure of profound ignorance in the novel, but she is the one I turn to when I try to understand the mind of the person who believes in the conspiracy theory that people around the world—from Eratosthenes onward—are lying about it being a sphere.

In order to focus our examination we will have to set aside those who did not so much make up their mind but had it make up for them by their religion. 00000The antecedents of their particular disorder are easy to trace and they would have to upset the entire applecart of their world view if they are to go against their belief system. Their defensiveness makes a kind of sense, in a rather depressing psychological fashion.

The Flat Earthers I am concerned about are more those who have decided—based presumably on the certainty of their limited senses and the paranoid concern that the world is filled with those who lie easily and well—that the world is not a globe but rather a flat dish with a sun shining 00000on it from above like a spotlight. This is the mentality that I want to get inside. Or perhaps I should say, peer beneath.

The original flat earth societies were more about proving the bible true and scientific verities false, but there was one lone voice which approached the question differently. The Flat Earth Society of Canada which was established on November 8, 1970 by philosopher Leo Ferrari, writer Raymond Fraser, and poet Alden Nowlan was an intellectual exercise. They were more interested in encouraging people to rely on the evidence of their senses instead of the received wisdom of education, and in that way they ran directly counter to the modern flat earth societies who have returned to the older and semi-successful project of undermining reasoning.00000

Non-religious belief in a flat earth is difficult to follow, although we can understand it emotionally. Their educational background is presumably limited, so they find many of the proofs of the spherical earth hopelessly obscure. They might think about the position of the stars depending on where you are on the surface of the globe, especially Polaris, as a form of evidence that the earth is a sphere, although that would engage their possibly atrophied spatial thinking. Foucault’s Pendulum demands the knowledge of how a pendulum might work on a rotating earth, and thus would strain their already well exercised incredulity. The disappearance of a ship going below the horizon is a much more straightforward test, although it is dependent on 00000understanding it is the effect of the earth’s curvature, instead of merely believing that every ship sinks once it leaves port.

They might try Eratosthenes’ experiment which took two vertical lines in different cities, drawn using a plumb, upright by the force of gravity, and looked to the shadow they cast. If the earth were flat the sun at noon would be directly overhead00000 for both, and because it is not, that is proof positive that the earth is a sphere. They might view the curve of the horizon out an airplane window, wonder as to why the other planets are round, the existence and meaning of time zones, why our gravity is consistent from one place on the globe to another. In short, they have a dozen different ways they might be able to supplement their educational deficit.

I am less concerned with their reluctance to engage in rather simple tests of their beliefs; I am more than accustomed to the very human refusal to admit a logical basis to an idea they hold to be true. I am much more interested in what the world looks like to these people. What do they think when they see the nearly ubiquitous images of the spherical earth?

I wrote a hard science fiction novel called Flat Earth and although I didn’t think much about flat earther’s at the time, and the book is not about the conspiracy ideas, I am occasionally surprised by people stumbling onto my website where I describe the book. I am quite explicit in its description, for I do not want anyone to feel duped or put upon, but I wonder at those who think they are going to find a book-length proof of their firmly held beliefs only to be disappointed yet again.

Instead, and this is the viewpoint I wonder about, the flat earther is surrounded by images in which the earth is a sphere. They are inundated by maps and globes in their school classroom, 00000Google Earth on their computer, artist conceptions of the solar system, the frequent tweets from the international space station, and Sagan’s pale blue dot. In fact, there are so many images that run counter to their chosen reactionary view that I wonder that they manage to cling to it so tenaciously. To do so points to more than ordinary recalcitrance. For every one image on a spoof site declaiming the medieval peasant’s view of the flat earth, there are millions of photographs of the actual earth proving it is a sphere. For every planetarium and orrery there are none which purport to show how an unusually shaped flat earth might fit amongst the planets.

For the flat earther the world must seem to be under a vast delusion, and they alone—and a few of their compatriots online—possess the truth. They must feel hemmed in on every side, that millions had been spent on educational models, doctoring 00000photos, faking nineteenth century explorer’s privations, merely to confuse the gullible. They never mention what the many millions of people who engage in the conspiracy earn from their quite difficult ruse, and I can only imagine that the flat earther compares the complicated plot involving world governments and many thousands of scientists to the schadenfreude sought by online trolls. The flat earther must feel that fun is being had at their expense and they are not invited to the party.

Such a person would feel profoundly isolated before the advent of the internet. But now they may find others who suffer from the same dislocation of idea, the same paranoid delusions, and therefore their sense of self receives a small underserved boost. Now they can point to several people world wide who share their view, and for them that vastly outweighs the cornucopia of evidence to the contrary, just like an unfounded claim on a 00000website about optical illusions forcing ships below the horizon outweighs a real test that they could easily perform. They accept at face value the statement made by a website they could have designed better themselves, but put off the trip to the beach with the telescope to see if the claim is true.

Their main feature is a kind of stubbornness, similar to the religious believer. They think that what is thrown up by their fallible brain must be true regardless of the physical world, and disregarding evidence to the contrary. In that, they are not alone, but I think their example performs a valuable service. Like the eastern Canadian example of a flat earth society argued, we should run our own experiments instead of merely accepting what we are told. Unfortunately, humans are a herd animal steve-cutts-Are-You-Lost-In-The-World-Like-Merather than the independent thinkers that we need to be. Einstein didn’t come up with relativity to explain the world because he was under the misapprehension that Newton’s laws were wrong. He sought to answer a different question that the flat earther’s gods and websites would not have been able to address. Other scientists were rapidly trying to substantiate Einstein’s theory, and it has been found quite robust when explaining the forces of time and gravity in a flexible space. Overturning it could very will win a Nobel prize, although spoofing it by a silly website would gain nothing more than a just obscurity.

Any view, regardless of how fantastic, has followers, but before we don our Harry Potter glasses—because the book is true you know—let’s grab the kids and take them to the beach where we can watch boats slowly sink below the horizon. Then we can go home with paper and pen, or a 00000basketball, an orange, and a flashlight, and try to think of how that might happen. The kids will be the better for the experience, and rather accept information at face value and then not bother to test it, like the flat earthers, they will know enough to think through problems on their own.

Weena cannot be blamed for her attraction to the fire, but in these days of freely available matches and stoves, we need to think and test before we are covered in third degree intellectual burns.

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Serendipity and Other People’s Hard Work: Contributing to Intellectual Society

Many years ago, when I used to build computers from found parts, installing hard drives was much more of an ordeal. You needed to look up the serial number of the 00000hard drive in a database—if you were lucky enough to find one—in order to locate the information you needed to type into the computer bios.

This sounds hopelessly clumsy now, when all you need to do is plug in the part and the system will recognize—out of the thousands of possibilities—the one you have. It was worse than clumsy. If you didn’t have access to the database, there was no way you could get the correct size, as well as the right amount of cylinders, heads, and sectors. Luckily for me, and for many other people, on the early internet there was such a database. Someone had laboriously typed in all of the data or, if he or she were lucky enough to have access to the spreadsheet, imported the data into a webpage and then set up a search engine so you could find your hard drive. At the time I was struck by the sheer altruism of that act. Like the people who edit Wikipedia, the person responsible for that crucial database is a saint.

I was contemplating buying a car in Toronto a few years ago and found one that was a good price. It was a 00000Toyota Echo, which I knew little enough about, but it had a major snag. The water pump needed to be replaced in order for the car to go anywhere without a tow truck. I had replaced a few on a Honda before, but I didn’t know if the Echo was easier or not. I turned to the internet—as many of us are doing these days—and found a man who had done the hours of work involved to show how to loosen the engine mounts, lift the engine, and get to the housing which would allow him to take out the water pump. What most amazed me was that he didn’t need to replace his when he made the video. He did that entirely for the edification of others.

There are now many YouTubers running channels devoted to one obsession or another, and many of them are managing to make money off their page through advertising and the sale of merchandise. Out of those there are also many thousands who do not earn a dime off their hard work, as they, in relative obscurity, contribute to the largest archive of human effort in history.

Today, I was impressed by another instance of this altruistic contribution. I was working on a science fiction novel about a colonist on Mars and needed the formula for finding out the period of spin on two objects separated 00000by a kilometre of cable and needing a simulated gravity of .5 g. I found a page which had a JavaScript calculator built, it seemed, for that exact purpose. Although it was ostensibly meant to calculate such spinning objects and the resultant centrifugal gravity for space stations, and wasn’t meant for a science fictional voyage at .5 g, but the tool allowed modification of any of the four values. I could specify the gravity I needed, and then how much cable, and the script would find out the angular velocity and tangential velocity.

When I was searching I found another similar page where someone takes on the sometimes frustrating task of educating people who are looking for answers and cannot be bothered to teach themselves. When one of the self-appointed instructors received a question which showed the person hadn’t thought about it very carefully, or perhaps did not have the education to understand an answer, the person who maintained the site was polite, thoughtful, thorough, explicit, and accurate.

 Question – I am reading about space colonies and I saw some pictures of what it would be like inside 00000a cylinder shaped space station. There is land all around the inside, so if you were standing on land in it and looked up, you would be looking down on the people above you. How would the gravity work then and wouldn’t the gravity of the people above you pull you “up?”


Answer – Lynn: As stated above, the method proposed for creating artificial gravity on a space station is to use a rotating system (like a rotating cylinder, torus, or sphere). Technically, rotation produces the same effect as gravity because it produces a force (called the centrifugal force) just like gravity produces a force. By adjusting certain parameters of a space station such as the radius and rotation rate, you can create a force on the outside walls that equals the force of gravity.

This is sort of like the amusement park ride where you get in a big cylinder with a lot of people and line up against the 00000walls. Then they spin the cylinder, producing a force that makes you feel pressed up against the sides. Everyone becomes glued to the walls of the chamber, and then they drop the floor out. No one falls to the ground because they are 00000being held to the edges by a force due to rotation. Another example would be swinging a bucket of water around over your head. The water doesn’t fall out if you spin the bucket around fast enough.

In a rotating space station, people will be “stuck” 00000to the outside too, but with a force equal to that of gravity so they will be able to walk around on the edges. The force will be the same all around the outside of the rotating cylinder, so depending on the design it could look like people are living on the ceiling!

The gravity of people around you will not make any noticeable difference. It is true that all objects which have mass exert a gravitational pull on other objects, but unless the mass is very large (like the earth) it has little effect. The people on the space station will not change the artificial gravity on the space station just like they do not effect [sic] the gravity while they are on Earth.

Even as there are people with 00000guns trying to tear down the huge edifice that is human culture, I take comfort in the fact that there are many million others who are building it, contributing by laying one brick at a time.

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Toys for Big Boys: Manboys and Manplay

When a local motorcycle and skidoo shop adopted the name “Toys for Big Boys” I would have thought it would mean death for their business. I would have guessed that the 000003overgrown baby that is the man who loves to play with trucks and all-terrain vehicles would have felt called out, insulted by this attack on his maturity. I was wrong.

Instead, those same men embraced the descriptor, happily trundling off to the store to buy ever more costly items, all the while 000000000110comfortable with the term, and apparently the idea, that they were immature manboys who were playing while others were working.000003

For me, that did not so much explain those men as it forced them into the open, like overturning a rock and being surprised by the insects blinking in the sun. I knew the type, and I have always had several friends who enjoyed playing even though as they grew older that became less defensible, at least for me. I never really understood either part of the phenomena. I don’t know why a man feels the urge to get in a buggy to drive too fast over a hill, or use a front end loader to spin their equally immature manboy friends around in circles, or shoot big guns, or run 000003remote toy cars around the neighbourhood, or tear through the woods on ATVs, or drive monster trucks—the list is as infinite as the toy store can supply.

Many times there are children 0000022at home that would love to play as well, but for many of these men, that is women’s business: the playing with children, while the playing with other men, that is for real men? Some will use the children as a rationale for the purchase of the toy, and others will include the child in their childish play, but for most of them, their play is meant to please their own childish minds and no one else. Not surprisingly, narcissism is a big part of the driving force for the manboy. He wants to remain a child, in that he doesn’t want to feel responsible for anybody or to anything, and just wants to play in the sun all day. He is not worried that his play must be 000020compensated for by someone else, by the wife who takes care of the kids, or has extra work to do when he comes home dirty, or that the children are losing part of the household income. Instead, like a child, he throws petulant fits if he can’t play with his toys, or if someone else wants to share them.

The other part of the phenomena is equally peculiar. The manboy has no shame that he wants to play like a child. In fact, he is proud that he only thinks of entertaining himself playing with toys. Oddly, he can often be induced to violence if you threaten his manhood by suggesting that he would be better to take some responsibility for his own life, the lives of his family, and his society, than tearing through a bog with a huge truck. He feels—and this is related to his narcissism—that he has every right to squander the household income on expensive toys for himself, that he has every right to play with his other manboy friends on the weekend instead of using that time to spend with his wife or children, or, god forbid, doing 00003320something more productive that might benefit society or others.

This shame cannot even be induced artificially. If you suggest to the manboy that he should spend less of the household money on himself, or that the toys bought should be those that a child would enjoy as well, he becomes defensive and outraged. He feels he has a right, by virtue of working all week, to not have to work on the weekend. This is a perfectly legitimate feeling, and I think we all share it, but he neglects to consider who else cannot play because he is playing. If he leaves his children behind so he can play cars with his 00000buddies, or swing from ropes with his friends, then someone else has to work more in order to allow that. His playtime is only for himself and he doesn’t understand why that’s a problem. That lack of understanding, or the will to misunderstand, is the principal problem.

Some manboys cut right to the chase and insist on spending their leisure time in diapers pretending to be a baby. Although this reads like a psychological problem of some sort to broader society, and to the psychologist, to the manbaby himself this relieves him of responsibilities just as he relieves himself in his drawers. He is allowed, in the privacy of his own home, to coo and drool and throw temper tantrums, and although this attitude spelled out in physical form might look especially unappealing, it will also seem strangely familiar to those who have dealt with the manboy who likes to play instead of work. Of course, the manbaby, like the manboy playing with toys, is not content to have this be a private affair, and usually will try to involve others with his play. He will sometimes hire others—it’s almost always adult women who bear the responsibility for the manboys—to care for him while he pretends to be a baby. He asks her to tolerate his tantrums, feed him milk from a bottle and, if he pays her enough, perhaps even change him. He never pauses to consider what he is asking of another, or to consider her feelings, but instead thinks that his feelings, his wishes, and desires are more important than another’s.

Behind all of this playtime for adult babies is the larger question of what a person should be doing with their life. If, as the leisure lifestyle advertisements argue, we should be000020 filling our spare time tending to our own amusement, then the manboy is on the right track. If not, and we should be tending to the responsibilities of our own life, our family, our community, and more broadly the world around us, then the manboy is a frivolous, selfish twit.

In Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451 he has his protagonist Montag ask his wife if the world is starving while they play: “Is it because we’re having so much fun at home we’ve forgotten the world? Is it because we’re so rich and the rest of the world’s so poor and we just don’t care if they are? I’ve heard rumours; the world is starving, but we’re well-fed. Is it true, the world works hard and we play? Is that why we’re hated so much?”

When I taught Fahrenheit 451 right after the spring break and many of my students had spent their break skiing down hills or lying on tropical beaches being served by the poor. 0000Because of the contrast Bradbury is asking us to imagine, that line struck me with a force I’d never before noticed. We know that people are suffering in the world. Is Montag’s moral condemnation true? That we are playing while they are starving? Do we have so little notion of our responsibilities that we think it is fine that we bungee jump our way to debt and negligence on someone else’s dime?

The opposite of playing

According to the many men in our society who feel entirely justified entering the Toys for Big Boys shop to spend a third of their household income in order to fitter away their time and most useful years, the answer is yes. And their actions bear out their statements. They do not care about anyone else in the world or what a person should spend their time doing. It never occurs to them that there are other ways of being,000003 in which they occupy themselves tutoring their children so that they become stronger students, join with their friends to build a house for a family in need, visit their aging parents, take out the trash and fix the garage door, or in some way make a contribution to society. As far as the manboys are concerned, their play alone justifies their existence, and that attitude, even more than their manplay, shows their lack of maturity.

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The Winter Solstice and Trying to Explain the Movement of the Sun

Many years ago I found myself trying to explain the movement of the sun during the winter to a class in Victoria, British Columbia, and ever since I have been struck by how cultural knowledge can be allowed or disallowed by geography. If you try to explain snow, for instance, to someone from the Cook Islands 00000in the central South Pacific—as I did when I was teaching there—you receive blank stares. My students understood the notion of frost and ice, for some islanders had freezers for the preservation of fish, but when I tried to describe how my entire country00000 sits beneath a blanket of such a substance, they agreed just to be polite.

When I tried to imagine the Atacama Desert before I went there this past summer, I was in a similar situation. I never imagined that the desert would be so completely dead. I was surprised that I could stand amongst the rocks and sand and not see a single living thing. Not a bug or weed or fly managed to live in such a desiccated place, although I expected that nowhere on the planet would be that barren.

Nearly thirty years ago I took a course in Icelandic literature at the University of Victoria, I was on the other end of that strange ignorance born from a lack of personal experience. I am from eastern Canada, and was lucky enough to grow up in a rural area where I had the four seasons explained to me in terms of the movement of the sun. Victoria has a monsoon climate, which means there are two seasons, summer, in which it rarely rains and is sunny nearly every day, and monsoon winter, in which it rarely is cold enough to snow but rains nearly every day.

People living in a monsoon climate know little about the movement of the sun in the winter, and that is why, when the question arose in class I had difficulty telling my instructor and fellow students what a line in the text meant. The line from the Vinland Sagas we were studying made reference to the “sun marching around the corner of the house” and the professor confessed that he had never understood the meaning of that line. He knew the line was referring to the passage of time, 00000but it made no sense to him that the sun’s movement could be used in this context. I tried to explain it from my seat, but when that made no sense to anyone in the class, I was allowed to go to the board and try my hand at drawing the movement of the sun.

In the northern climates, the earth’s tilt along its year-long orbit is angled in such a way that the sun does not climb from the due east and drop in the due west as it does in the tropics, but rather appears to cut across the corner of the sky. At times during the winter, the sun in the very far north merely peeks above the horizon, travels along it briefly, and then dips below again. That means, as far as the view from the ground in a stable place00000 like a house, the summer sun will rise due east, and then as the year grows later it will rise further and further in the south, until the winter solstice passes, and then it will begin its trek back to the location of its summer rising. In other words, to the careful observer, the sun appears to travel around the corner of the house.

This halting of the sun’s movement is happening as I write this tonight, for we are partway through the longest night of the year, December 21st. I know, intellectually if not intuitively, that the sun will be a little stronger tomorrow, and will rise slightly higher in the sky each subsequent day until nights of minus seventeen, like now, are a thing of the past.

All those years ago, I stood at the board in that classroom, and even though I did not have the pedagogical tools at my disposal that I have now that I have been teaching for twenty years, I tried my best to explain to them how the sun might appear to travel, at least when it is described poetically. The professor was patient, and tried to understand me, and the students were by turns attentive and dismissive, depending on their temper, but none of them could make out what I was claiming. In fact, and I could see this by their faces, many thought I was spouting pure balderdash.

Finally, the professor feigned to understand, just to get me to return to my seat, and left me to puzzle over why something that should be so simple, something to me that was so obvious, should be so difficult to explain or understand. It was a few days before I realized that I had been lucky to grow up in a rural area where the sun’s rising throughout the year was noticed and remarked upon. I rose early for school, and was able to see the movement of the sun, as day by day, it rose farther and farther to the south before the winter solstice and then farther east high_low_sunin the spring. Finally in summer, I remember the sun setting in a huge golden ball right in the middle of the north south running road.

For those of my fellow students, as well as my professor, who had grown up in Victoria, where the leaden clouds are parted for perhaps three times the entire winter, they would have had no such experience to draw upon. For them, the sun was sighted but rarely and was more or less in the same place in the sky. If I had been their astronomy professor explaining how the tilt of the earth affects the angle and location of the rising sun they would no doubt have made more effort, but since I was merely the student from the back of the class who took it upon himself to interpret a line from the Vinland Sagas, and used such an arcane notion of the movement of the sun, they could not credit it.

I’ve thought since that there was likely no way that I could have described such a difficult matter to people for whom it seemed to be patent nonsense. They had never seen the sun moving around like I described, and had put little thought into what the axial tilt of the Earth might mean. Therefore, 0000I was explaining something arcane by reference to something impossible. I was like a man explaining how the ghost he had seen was related to religious mythology. My fellow students might have tested my statement by research, but without the visceral experience, they would have difficulty even knowing which thread to follow.

The acknowledgement of geographical limitations on a student’s ability to learn is an important aspect of a general pedagogical approach. Northern lights can be

The aurora of February 9, 2014 seen from Churchill, Manitoba at the Churchill Northern Studies Centre, in a view looking northwest from the main building over the trees, with the 10-22mm lens. This is a 10-second exposure at f/4 and ISO 800 with the Canon 60Da. Moonlight lights the landscape. Cassiopeia is at upper left. (Alan Dyer/VWPics/Redux)

The aurora of February 9, 2014 seen from Churchill, Manitoba at the Churchill Northern Studies Centre. Moonlight lights the landscape. Cassiopeia is at upper left. (Alan Dyer/VWPics/Redux)

described to someone from the topics, but it might be better to use a video, and likewise for the tides to someone from a landlocked country. I have taught texts about the ocean in Winnipeg many times, but each time I make sure to describe what the tides are like on the ocean to the observer on the ground, 00000and by using the large lakes north of the city, the action of waves. As instructors, we need to ensure that we put some thought into the basis of understanding that our students might have, whether that is due to their cultural background, or the influence of geography.

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The Best line from a Student Paper

Although I have read many great student sentences over the years, probably the most memorable one is from my student’s essay when I was teaching in the United States. One of my students was writing about Frederick Douglass, the famous former slave, orator, and abolitionist, but the grammar of their essay turned against them and they ended up saying something very different from what they likely intended.

Although I have since—after many thousands of pages of marking—forgotten the paper itself, I remember the sentence: “Not only was Frederick Douglass a slave, but he had to work for long hours for low pay and frequent beatings.” They were right about some of their assertions. Frederick Douglass (born February 1818 – February 20, 1895) had been a slave in Maryland before he escaped to become the famous agitator for both black and women’s rights. Also, Douglass was frequently beaten; the student was right about that as well. As far as low pay, it is true that “low” 00000does not begin to describe how poor was the remuneration for slave work.

It is worth considering the sentence more carefully, however. Looking it over for more than its mistakes, it can be found to raise interesting albeit problematic questions. The beginning, “not only” makes the first clause subordinate, and implies that whatever follows will either build upon or supersede the initial statement: “Frederick Douglass a slave.” The reader is thus prepared for some other pieces of information related to his slavery but also possibly other portions of his life that inform his slavery or slavery in general.

The information the reader receives is not entirely expected. The notion of the student, 00000who—and perhaps this speaks rather highly of their moral sense if not their understanding of slavery—believes that slavery is a paying position, is likely due to modern idiomatic usage of the term. People who have to work for long hours, frequently complain, “I worked like a slave all day,” and when they mention mistreatment, they say, half tongue-in-cheek, “what am I, a slave?” Thus the student, who likely works for “slave 000010wages,” or minimum wage, has probably heard the expression applied to work like their own. As well, they may well find it impossible to imagine someone being forced to work for nothing, although the American Japanese internment camps, as well as the work camps of the Nazis, are there to disabuse them of the notion.

In modern times,0000110 this type of work is done by people with intellectual disabilities, who are sometimes hired for an extremely low government-paid stipend, although many of them may be more than capable than doing a day’s work. In that case they are merely being taken advantage of by unscrupulous employers (surely a tautology) 000020who are abusing a system set up for people whose work skills do not add value in the traditional sense. Other forms of free labour that are common in society would be the demand for long unpaid, training periods for new workers, and the volunteer experience people are expected to use to pad their resume.

It is to the student’s credit that they found working for nothing hard to imagine, although it speaks volumes about how their education system failed them in terms of describing a major component of their own history. Note as well that his hours were “long,” which indicates the student is further noting the unfairness of the system.

Where the grammar gets increasingly strange is when the student considers the other part of Douglass’ pay. He works for “low pay” and “frequent beatings.” Although the use of the and is likely the an inadvertent result of the student’s prose getting away from them, the he or she has implied that Douglass was partly paid in beatings. Perhaps that was meant to make up 0000for the lowness of the pay, but whatever the result, it begs the question of whether he would have been willing to take more pay and less beatings, or whether the frequency of the beatings is meant to be a positive aspect of his pay system. He was paid regularly and beat frequently, which perhaps in the mind of the student is better than being paid on no set schedule and being constantly surprised by sudden and unplanned beatings.

The second and principal clause is where the sentence gets the strangest, but because of that it encourages the reader to forget that it is meant to supplement the statement made in the initial clause. “Not only” was he a slave, Douglass also had to be a slave. The statement implies that the student has a more uncertain notion of slavery than the reader might initially suppose. Although there are many more components to slavery, like denial to due process under the law, inability to own property, denial to medical care, inability to travel without permission, and say, “being owned,” the main idea that would come into the reader’s mind upon reading about Douglass being a slave was that he would be mistreated and likely had to work. The student reads this as somehow exacerbating Douglass’ slave status.

In a way, the student’s naiveté about slavery, and the mistreatment of his or her fellow citizens, or the people who would become his or her fellow citizens after emancipation, is endearing. They find the horror of the institution of slavery so impossible to understand that they cannot imagine even its more basic features, no pay for work and beatings, were an established part of the system of inequality. In terms of their sentence, however, they let the comma fool them into thinking that the two parts of the sentence were independent, instead of the reality of their grammar, that they were intimately connected and commented on one another. Also, they were seemingly unaware that the “and” meant they were listing two items which were equal under the umbrella that they had chosen to construct. The “long hours” Douglass had to work, once “low pay” entered the agreement and was followed by an “and,” meant that both items in the list were included in the pay.

This exercise is meant to be about more than denigrating student writing. The internet is rife with statements about students’ essays, and although most of them appear to be created on the spot by writers experienced in denigrating the abilities of others, I am more interested the student’s words got away from them, and thus were able to enjoy a life of their own frolicking on the grass of meaningless and illogic. This can happen to any of us, those who write for a living and are apparently aware of how a collection of words together in a string might mean something more or less than we intend.

More recently, online grammar 00000guardians seem to easily find any misuse of “their” and “they’re” riveting and the cause for hilarity, and they are cheered on by those for whom schadenfreude is a delight. But to engage in such fish-in-a-barrel target practice does not excuse us from the slippery world of the signifier’s loose relationship with the signified. Those who delight in the low hanging fruit of misspellings and the confusing of adjectives with nouns, lose track of the slightly more subtle problems that can arise in our sentences and entirely contravene what we mean to say.

This problem of expression is one that we all share, and first year students are no exception. As if the language is actively conspiring against us, words change their meaning, idiomatic utterances spring to life only to seem dated and trite a few years later, and new coinages astound with their obtuseness or utility. Even if we insist on reading grammar as no more than the rules that define how words form a chain of meaning, that does not mean the words will not conspire against us and link themselves to other thoughts almost of their own accord.

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The Contamination of Ideas: Truth and Lies in the Internet Age

A recent encounter reminds me that notions of knowledge and how it is gained can be subjective. I was told by a young person 000000that a documentary watched by their mother—they didn’t even see the documentary themselves—argued that there was widespread geological evidence for the biblical flood. They were not being facetious and they meant physical rather than textual evidence.

I wasn’t sure how to respond. I suggested that the documentary sounded like a Christian documentary (Likely Is Genesis History?), rather than one which was interested in presenting the findings of archelogy and geology. They insisted it was true, and that left me with no answer. Instead, I began to wonder what would inspire them to argue vehemently about the truth value of a documentary that presumably they hadn’t watched themselves. This situation is a familiar one, for we live in an age with so little respect for the hardworking academics and technicians who are trying to give us a better understanding of our actual world that we indulge in every passing fantasy and whim. Unfortunately, there are powerful forces with a vested interest who are there coke-1938-by-thecoca-colacompanydotcom1to assist the fantasy just like the weather channel and Norad and the neighbourhood mall encourage the sightings of Santa, presumably for the delight of children.

This post-fact world, or largely-disinterested-in-science world is a mecca for those whose beliefs have no foundation. They can merely deliver their opinion and it will be received by their easily led market in any direction they wish. Once my opinion becomes as good as your fact, then the myths of the past can enter the public imagination just as easily as they did before the enlightenment, when most people in Europe lived in hovels outside of massive cathedrals 000000and sweated to support obviously wealthy institution. At the time, that made sense to them, but only because they were too ignorant to know they were being scammed.

This also means that other groups, even less savory if that’s possible, such as white supremacists, holocaust deniers, flat-earthers and birthers, can promulgate their masquerade of propaganda and silliness without challenge. In the recent American election, even if we set aside reports of Russia tinkering with the received 0000012information of Americans by infesting their social media with ridiculous news stories, Trump’s own erroneous statements are a cause for concern. Nearly daily he tweets nonsense, and there is no system in place except the public themselves to fact-check his statements. On national television he makes statements that are patently untrue, and which could be easily checked at the network level, but pleading that they don’t know how to handle a president who either lies, or doesn’t know the difference between what he is saying and reality, the news networks are at a loss.

The more biased news networks are a different matter. They have a deliberate agenda which they support mainly by repetition and debasing journalism to he-said-she-said 000000pundits arguing like children. Their credible market is made up of those who have already contaminated their minds by their Facebook information bubble, and therefore are ripe for convincing statements which support their prejudices.

My American friend recently was expounding to me about Muslims. It has been a few years since I have spent time with him so I was surprised. Perhaps his other friends who see him more regularly were present for the slow progression, but I had missed the intermediary steps, the missing link that made him sound like a rabid racist. He was asking me a series of inflammatory questions in order to scare out of me an agreement that Muslim-majority countries are more misogynist, brutal, and generally frightening than the Christian-majority countries 000000like his own. My main interest was summed up in my question to him about why he suddenly cared about Muslims. I’ve never heard him express any concern before, so I asked him if he was now working with a bunch of Muslims and they were treating him poorly. “Where do you get your ideas about Muslims?” I asked him. He responded by asking me about Saudi Arabia, and Iraq, countries he would be hard-pressed to point to on a map, but was full of ideas about. He had Google ready to draw and shoot, but I was persistent in my original question.

“How could you suddenly be so concerned with women in Azerbaijan if you never were before? What has changed?” I asked him. “What new information have you received, and more importantly, who did you receive it from?” I have only travelled in two Muslim-majority countries, Malaysia and Indonesia, and I never noticed any difference tied to religion in those countries any more than in any other South East Asian country, but at least I had been in one. Also, since I have Muslim friends and teach Muslim students, I’ve had some interaction with them. He couldn’t claim the same. He strove to remember and finally said that a guy at work might be Muslim, he didn’t know. “Is he particularly rabid?” I asked. “Lazy? Violent?”

I didn’t mean for my friend to re-examine all of his ideas about Islam, but I had made him curious with my one question about why he now cared about the question although in general his life was obviously unaffected. He began to ponder the question and soon isolated it to the media he was watching. He thought he would not be affected by the news, as biased as it was, but ideas are contagious, and while he was watching for bias, he was being told over and 000000over again facts laced with cyanide. He had come out of the American news system worrying about Muslim-majority countries when in fact he is not the type to care about anything outside his own state, and rarely outside his own house and workplace.

The messages around us are insidious, whether it is the documentary ostensibly watched by our mother or the news which tells us who to hate and why. With the internet such lies have long legs, and before their facts have a chance to be checked, they are in the serving dishes of many millions of people who are gullible and waiting for something to tell them what they should be thinking. Right now, the system runs amok. Someone posts a picture of their neighbour’s child and claims they have gone missing and millions of well-intentioned people spread the message far and wide. The disclaimer that follows, which asks them to please desist, is sometimes seen as an attempt to hide the truth, and still others see it as evidence that all reports are lies.

This is rather a long way of asking if as a culture, or series of cultures worldwide, we need a body of fact checkers. The journalists were supposed to do that for us, they were supposed to look through each story and ensure that it passed muster, but even if some of them are still doing their job, they are easily bypassed in the days where the president tweets to his vapid audience directly, and internet memes get mistaken as 000000truth. Given our rather more grim situation, should we require that any post online go through a fact-checking procedure? This rouses cries of control of information and censorship, but in fact that seems to be just what we need. Until we have everyone educated in how to educate themselves, until we have explained how to be a critical thinker, if that is even possible given such a huge and unwieldly populace, they might need a nanny to check over what’s in the children’s books of their nightly news and daily downloads.

Right now we have a rather ineffective system of checks and balances on our information, and it is only as effective and coherent as our friends. We have the vague and most times thoughtless ridicule of others. Once someone passes on a piece of information, it is subject to the very world which would promote or ignore it. If it is ridiculed enough,000000 it dies the death of a thousand times it is ignored. If our system is filled with people like ourselves, not surprisingly, they forward our nonsense to their friends, who are similar people, and we give life to something that should have been halted at the first stroke of the pen.

Unfortunately, this system’s downfall, as I suggest above, is that we need to be the Competent Receiver that H. G. Wells wanted us to be in the 1930s when he was worrying about the coming war and most people were suffering through the depression. If we have millions of people pushing and pulling at their own agenda until it is red and sore looking, then we might want to educate ourselves before we are victims to holocaust denial trolling, white supremacy vitriol, and religious buffoonery. If Santa is real, let him from out from behind the mall’s Christmas display, 000000and declare himself. If he does not, then let us send a firm message to those who would promulgate such messages—like the weather channel’s claim that he has been seen on radar crossing the north pole—to let the fantasy die it deserved death.

If we don’t have fact checkers on our networks silencing Trump’s mouth when he is lying, or disallowing Christian broadcasting masquerading as facts, then we need to be responsible viewers ourselves. Just because we want something to be true, doesn’t mean we have the right to send that information to our friends. Wishful thinking should not be confused with facts. If there is no hard evidence that the world-wide flood ever happened—and there isn’t—then keep the fantasy to yourself and do not contaminate the information pool for everyone else. It’s hard to avoid inflicting our fantasies on our neighbours and friends, but we have to remember that we do not have the right to corrupt the archive for future generations. If there is no evidence for something we’d like to be a fact, can we really justify teaching that to gullible people, or children, 000000knowing that we are lying about it being true? If there is no evidence for prayer being an effective treatment—see Why God Hates Amputees—then we would be better praying in the shame of our own homes than making sure that a deliberately lie gets any further currency.

How we become competent receivers is no doubt an arduous process that begins—and Wells was right about this—with a general education and ends with self-education that is an ongoing life-long process. We can begin that process today, but going through our own assumptions about Muslims, prayer, the flood in Genesis, holocaust denial, white supremacy, refrigerator lights, sunspots and climate change, contrails behind jets, the use of fluoride, vaccines, a New World Order, UFOs, homeopathy, auras, flat-earth, weather control, the world trade centre bombing, and examining them for evidence. We need to give those assumptions the same scrutiny that we reserve for ideas we dislike, or when the bank says we made a withdrawal when we insist we didn’t.

Apply that same rigor we did as children when we examined the Facebook bubble of Santa being real with what we knew about reality, and then relegated Santa back to the toy box where such ideas belong. If you still believe in Santa, that is another matter, and you can believe me when I make the baseless claim that there is help out there.

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As soon as I heard the word, and its definition, in a documentary about the New York waste stream, I knew, rather sheepishly, that I had been guilty of wishcycling.0000012

Many times I can remember standing over a recycling bin with something in my hands that should be recycled, something that I wanted to recycle, something I didn’t want to go to the landfill, but that I knew would not be recycled by my local system. Instead of throwing it into the trash so it could be compacted into the landfill for our future generations to find and curse us about, I would drop it into the recycle bin anyway. When my friends were present, I would say, “We’ll let god sort it out,” although I knew, that unlike people of different faiths who believe their gods will find the correct category at the end of time, real people at the city dump would have to 000000sort through and discard everything that I didn’t have the fortitude to bag as trash. Instead of decreasing their work, or not-so-subtly suggesting that they set up facilities to recycle a different plastic or glass, I was adding to their workload and ensuring that they had less money for recycling, the only service at the landfill which is positive environmentally.

My friend works at the Edmonton 000000city dump where he is building them a gasifier for those material objects, like mattresses, which cannot be easily composted or torn into their component bits in order to recycle them. Edmonton wants to divert ninety-five percent of its waste stream from the landfill, and projects like the gasifier are a necessary component of that plan. They will eventually have the facilities to make use of the plastic bags I have a hard time throwing into the landfill, or the Styrofoam that is not recycled by my city.

At one time I thought I was doing the city a favour, for instead of making sure everything in the recycle bin was recyclable, I was forcing them to acknowledge 000000what they weren’t doing. I should have known that they are far more aware than I am what their systems miss. I now know better, and I realize that there are excellent staff working on widening the categories, but their work is hampered by people like me, who due to laziness, or an earnest wish to coerce the city into a better recycling program, are actually overburdening the system in place.

If we want a better system it is going to take more of a commitment than merely being lazy about pitching my garbage. We need to foment for actual change, 000000and in the meantime—as I have suggested elsewhere—package your consumer items for the landfill carefully so that even as future generations—poor beyond our imagination because we reduced the earth to a subsistence layer of metals and hydrocarbons—dig up our trash, they will both curse us and be pleased with what they find.

As an addendum to the above, 20171202_113020I recently was waiting for a bus and was struck by the mute significance of the sign on the back of the recycling / rubbish bin. I’m not the only one who disregards the rule, and apparently I might not even be the most flagrant in my disregard.

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Avicii’s “Wake Me Up”: Or, Save Me from the Dirty Poor

Although I usually have little wake me upto say about the fripperies and pomp of pop music, once I watched Avicii’s “Wake Me Up” I was infuriated by its rather simplistic and classist portrayal.

“Wake Me Up” is likely meant to tell the story of a woman and her daughter who feel out of place in the town where they live and how they are unhappy until they search for and find their real community. This seems innocuous enough, but the presentation of the mother and child as well as the villagers they are running from is more than problematic.

The mother is played by Russian fashion 0000001model Kristina Romanova and the younger girl is the actress Laneya Grace. They do not in the least represent a downtrodden minority, for in their blond and blue-eyed way they are well dressed, engage in no work, and somehow keep a horse nearby which they do not bother to maintain. The world they run to is filled with people like themselves, young, beautiful, careless, mindlessly conformist, and who, as far as we can tell, 0000001live only for themselves and contribute nothing to society. They all share, in their conformist way, the same tattoo of two triangles facing away from each another, but they are scarcely a suffering and oppressed group—such as the gay people targeted by the Nazis who were made to wear a purple triangle. Rather they are happy, have the leisure to leap pointlessly about at a concert and, as the video shows, they are entitled to and remain unquestioned about their rather derisive view of their neighbours.

The neighbours are quite another matter. Perhaps so the contrast between them and the hipster mother and daughter can be delivered with a bludgeoning and unforgettable force, the neighbours are portrayed as trapped in the 000000dustbowl thirties. They could easily fit in with any of Dorothea Lange’s portraits of depression era sufferers. Their clothes are out of date, colourless and dirty, and their 000000posture is one of misery, despair, and anger. They are shown working with wooden crates and ash strip baskets that the directors must have scavenged from antique shops; no one has used those in at least fifty years. Their expressions are singularly grim, as though a 000000score of drudges were let out of the prison where they had been kept since the thirties so that they could see everything that they were not able to be or have. The video is not in the least interested in them; they are given no voice, or even wake me upvariety of expression, although the video makes sure we are aware they represent black and white, old and young. What they most firmly represent, however, is the working poor. Just as the beautiful mother and equally beautiful daughter are meant to represent Avicii’s audience—young wealthy hipsters—the crowd that surrounds them in the street is the unhip, ugly, bestial side of America.

The video presentation is as unsubtle as it is classist. The mother and daughter are given voice in the video, such as when the daughter suggests that they are not liked by their neighbours and then asks why. The mother, perhaps because the answer is a little too obvious, merely hugs her daughter’s plaint away. The video is not prepared to state its rather obvious conclusion: “They hate us because we are so much better than them in every way.”

To return to the only scene in which we see the two groups interact, we can see that the way the small family acts toward their poor neighbours is very different than the smiles the mother reserves for her new beautiful friends at the concert. wake me upWhen the mother approaches her peers—as she obviously views them—she notes the tattoo which informs her they are her people, and then smiles at them and offers greetings. When she and the child walk through their neighbours, they wipe the smiles from their face and stare as though they were amongst dangerous zoo animals. Lest the viewer think that the mother and daughter are merely judgemental twits, the working poor neighbours are given the same stare and unsmiling faces. wake me upThis is meant to convince us that the mother is in the right: “I don’t smile at them because they don’t smile at me.” Instead, they walk amongst the freakish poor as freaks themselves, everyone staring at the other, but in the ethos of the video, we are meant to know who to sympathize with.

Once the mother rides away through the orchards on her horse to find her real people—the rich ravers at the concert—she returns to help her daughter escape. The horse is abandoned, as the daughter and her walk down the road dressed in even more funky clothing. They happily leave their neighbours behind, who are ostensibly working the orchards she rode through and taking care of her horse. The last scene is a shot of a poor, abused neighbour, carrying her wooden indigenous-made basket, turning away from the camera to continue her meaningless life now that her betters have left.

As an exercise in the portrayal of the working classes, the video is highly offensive. We know that hot only exists in reference to cold, but we scarcely need to experience zero degrees kelvin to know that something with less heat exists. Wealth is only defined by reference to poverty, but the video’s unsympathetic gaze reeks of unexamined privilege. We can understand that the video needs to write poverty as belonging to the dim past—to an America of the thirties—because otherwise the band might lose some of their own fan base, who live in poverty and spend their hard-earned money trying to emulate the lifestyle of the mother in the film. Even in the video, however, we can see that not everyone can merely dance their life away at a rave. Some people have to maintain the orchards, care for the abandoned horse, and maintain the roads the mother and daughter escape on.

The voiceless poor in the film, even in their exaggerated and archetypical presentation, are presumed to be single-minded, homogenous, angry, and judgemental of the beautiful. This is the poor written as the hateful other. Conveniently ignoring that the rhythms the rich are dancing to at the rave came from slaves and other musical traditions kept alive by downtrodden people, the video represents the working classes as mindless beasts that have nothing in common with the privilege of beauty and wealth which the video naturally combines.

The story of the mother and her daughter is as uninteresting as it is bland. Although I am curious about how the daughter came to be in the small town, what drab worker donated sperm to his better so that she might judge him later, and what they do for a living or how they manage to pay rent for their house, I am much more interested in the lives of those in the village. Are their resentful glances the result of having to maintain two useless members of their society, like the serfs of old supporting parasitic and superior aristocrats? What is their music like? What are their hopes and fears? They face a reality that is much more representative of the peoples of the world than the fraught anxiety of the mother and her daughter about not fitting in with people they despise, but what might the working classes in this video say if they had been given a voice?

If I were presented with the choice, 000000I would turn down the invite to the concert where the mother and her equally pretentious friends leap about and take selfies, and join the working poor, where the stories and art that keep culture alive find their wellspring.

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Misplacing People by Modifiers

Normally when I am reading articles, especially those on a topic outside my field of study, I often gloss over errors or problems with the prose. Sometimes I am halted in midsentence by an utterance that is troubling in terms of its implications, or which suggests something the author likely did not intend.

I found such a sentence when I was reading an article about indigenous people arriving in North and South America and couldn’t help but pause over one sentence about the relative strength and endurance of travelers: “All that kelp, it has been noted, would have provided a rich habitat for sea creatures upon which hearty travelers could feast.”

I read the sentence again, stopping this time at the word hearty. Would the diet of sea creatures have been too much for less hearty travelers, I wondered. If our current gluten-concerned crowd were to stumble on the kelp highway would they not have been hearty enough to feast on the rich banquet? Were only hearty travelers invited along for the feast, and if so, how did the authors know that? If the travelers were present at a feast, did they need to be hearty to arrive, eat, or digest it? I tried to move the word hearty around and see if we can see where it belongs.

“All that hearty 0000001kelp, it has been noted, would have provided a rich habitat for sea creatures upon which travelers could feast.” The kelp is now hearty, which is good news for this already hearty plant. The trouble with the word modifying kelp is that the travelers now have to eat kelp, which, regardless of how hearty it might be, it would doubtlessly cause digestive problems and rapidly make our travelers less hearty.

“All that kelp, it has been noted, would have provided a rich, hearty habitat for sea creatures upon which travelers 000000could feast.” The kelp is now ordinary kelp again, but the habitat has been upgraded considerably. Now the coastal habitat is not only rich, but hearty, although the discerning reader will note the words imply the same thing.

“All that kelp, it has been noted, would have provided a rich habitat for hearty sea creatures upon which 000000travelers could feast.” The sea creatures have come off well in this incarnation. Their health would likely have little to do with how easy it would be for the traveler to eat, however. They might be heartier once they were caught, but that might mean they are less likely to be caught and therefore eaten, which means our travelers would be less hearty when they arrived in the new continent, if they didn’t starve outright.

“All that kelp, it has been heartily noted, would have provided a rich habitat for sea creatures upon which travelers could feast.” Once I could not use the word as an adjective, I thought it might work better as an adverb. Now, the ones making the observation about the relative heartiness of kelp, habitat, sea creatures, or travelers, are making their statements with a certain heartiness. They are proud of their opinion and state it firmly. Unfortunately, the sentence now draws attention to the ones making the observation instead of the observation itself.

“All that kelp, it has been noted, would have heartily provided a rich habitat for sea creatures upon which travelers could feast.” This modification doesn’t seem much better. Now the provision of the sea habitat is hearty, which is certainly redundant given that the habitat is “rich,” and dwells on the implication that an animate agency is responsible for the construction of sea habitat instead of the travelers who are ostensibly the main interest of the sentence.

“All that kelp, it has been noted, would have provided a rich habitat for sea creatures upon which travelers could heartily feast.” The travelers are now undoubtedly 000000happier, given that they are not only feasting, which implies the meal to be a good one, but that they are also really engaged. They are face down in the trough, their throats packed and Heimlich attendants at the ready in case some seafood goes awry. Likely the author of the sentence did not intend that the feast would be so bacchian, however. In this incarnation, the sentence says more about the gluttony of the travelers than it does what the sea habitat provided to them.

A rule of writing states that less is more. To employ that, I decided to remove the word entirely. “All that kelp, it has been noted, would have provided a rich habitat for sea creatures upon which travelers could feast.” Once the heartiness of the kelp, habitat, sea creatures, travelers, the providing, and feasting has been removed we can see what little the word contributed. The feasting travelers implies that the repast was hearty, just as the rich sea habitat implies the sea creatures were of quantity and quality enough to make a feast. The travelers do not need to be particularly hearty in order to eat, nor does the kelp need to be much heartier than kelp is normally to provide for the rich habitat. A rich habitat does not need to be extra hearty for the sea creatures, any more than the sea creatures need to be hearty in order to be eaten, especially if one is feasting. The relative heartiness of the verbs, the jovial voice that heartily notes the habitat is rich, or the heartiness of the provision of the habitat, or the hearty feasting, is not essential, and in fact obstructs the meaning of the sentence.

Once I left the word hearty out of the sentence it kept its rather pleasing focus on the travelers and still provided them sea creatures for the feast and yet lost none of its presumed meaning. I understand the impulse that made the travelers hearty, for we have often thought of humans in prehistory as 000000heartier than us, but for the purposes of the sentence, with the sea habitat so rich, we needn’t give them any more heartiness than they already undoubtedly possessed.

This hearty sentence is heartily provided by

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How Using Academic Research is like being in an Argentinian Argument

Although many academics tacitly accept that research makes a paper stronger, they don’t exactly examine that premise. In fact, if the paper is well argued, and has evidence it has garnered from the primary text(s), other sources are superfluous. They add nothing to the argument other than a vague suggestion that there exists a critical surround—a kind of village of academic peers—occupied by the same topic. Other critical resources, in terms of those which are meant to support an argument which has already been proven, are the academic equivalent of name dropping. To examine the premise of research’s utility, it’s worthwhile looking at the types of conversations I had many times in Argentina.

Although my Spanish runs from poor to laughable, once I was in the country I was able to understand much of the Argentinian discussions, especially if I was partaking. If I had the good fortune to be discussing an idea with a person who kept to the topic, I even began to be able to perceive the outlines of their argument, even if the logic by times escaped me. More often, the discussions proceeded in a disjointed fashion and left me behind gasping for air as they dove and fluttered and twittered around ideas that were at best tangential to the topic under discussion.

My confusion aside, I began to note there was a kind of logic to the way arguments would progress and, just as Prendick discovered when he returned to society in H. G. Wells’ The Island of Doctor Moreau, the utterance of big thinks around me followed a certain pattern. Once my vociferous combatant began to feel logically boxed in, or when—as Fabrício told me—throwing dirt at the question did not longer suffice, they would appeal to their friends.

If we were talking about whether it is selfish to want to have a child in a world of seven billion, for instance, and I was beginning to hear their point of view shift until we were discussing something else entirely, then I might expect them to call a friend to shore up what was rapidly becoming empty bombast.

“You say you don’t want a child of your own and then talk about seven billion, but that’s just a number and numbers have been known to be wrong and there are many wars being fought around the world at this time and that means people are dying in huge numbers. War is terrible no matter what you say and if you don’t believe in life after death and god then you might as well be supporting wars and that means you want people to die and not go to heaven.”

Oddly, I have been in discussions that were exactly this disjointed. When I pointed out that we were no longer talking about the same topic, the person who had just unleashed a streamer of ideology and free association would turn to their friend and ask, “You agree with me, right?” At their assent they would turn triumphantly back to me and say, “See.”

This strategy confounded me more than once. I had difficulty seeing the logic of their appeal to their friend’s agreement. For me, that merely meant that now I had two people in front of me who made no sense instead of just one. In their mind their appeal to another proved, in a schoolyard bully kind of way, that they were right. Their correctness lay in their numbers. I was alone, they had a friend who agreed with them.

Oddly, academic research works in exactly the same way. When an academic has completed their original research, they have to shore up their paper with appeals to authority which do not strengthen the paper in any other way than to say, “You agree with me, right?” The bulk of the paper is occupied with real proofs, just like the Argentinian discussion should employ real numbers about the population and how that will collide, Malthusian-like, with the phenomenological world.

Once that evidence is inserted, then the researcher will call upon those academic authorities, who admittedly have more credentials than those who happen to be standing next to the one making the argument, and use them to say that their peers agree. They are saying, “I am not alone in making this argument, and if my evidence is not sufficient, then here are some peers who say I am right.”

If the student striving to find quotes remembers that the quotes that support their argument really do little more than indicate someone agrees with them, they will perhaps feel less stressed about writing the master work. Their argument needs to be logical and well founded, but the academic sources merely exist to prop up their credentials, not to strengthen their argument; “My friend agrees with me. See.”

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